California is one of a handful of states in the U.S. with laws that specifically address bedbugs in rentals. It’s illegal for landlords to knowingly show or rent out a bedbug-infested unit, whether they’re in San Francisco or Los Angeles. Tenants are also required by law to cooperate with their landlords when it comes to treating an infestation. But these laws don’t explicitly address who is responsible for fixing the problem, making bedbugs a legal gray area in some cases.
California landlords are required to eradicate “vermin”
Like most states in the U.S., California has an implied warranty of habitability—a legal guarantee that landlords will keep their rental units habitable throughout a tenancy. Unlike most other states, however, California actually includes a list of requirements for a rental unit to be considered habitable. This list covers the big stuff, like running water, heat, electricity, and a functional roof, door, and windows. It also mentions that landlords are required to keep their buildings and grounds free from “vermin,” a term that is assumed to include bedbugs.1
As is the case for most warranties, however, landlords aren’t responsible for repairing issues caused by the renter themselves (or one of their guests).2 In most cases, this makes sense—if a tenant’s friend accidentally broke a window during a party, a landlord shouldn’t be responsible for paying to fix it. But bedbugs are trickier. A renter could unknowingly bring bedbugs into their unit without acting in a negligent or deliberate way, while still technically “causing” the infestation.
If a tenant is certain that they didn’t cause the infestation (if, for instance, a neighboring tenant was the source of the infestation), then it’s clear that the landlord should take care of it. If it’s not obvious where the bedbugs came from, then the situation could become more complicated. That said, California courts have sided with tenants in several blockbuster bedbug cases—including one where the judge awarded a family close to $1.6 million for living in a bedbug-infested apartment in Inglewood for months. The family’s three-year-old son was left with scarring as a result of the bedbug bites.3
Landlords can’t show or rent a bedbug-infested unit
In California, it’s illegal for a landlord to show, rent, or lease a unit to a prospective tenant if they know (or could tell, based on a visual inspection) that it’s currently infested with bedbugs. But landlords aren’t required to inspect a unit or a building’s common areas for bedbugs if there’s no reason for them to think that there’s an infestation.4
Tenants can be awarded significant damages if their landlords ignore this law. In December 2017, a Los Angeles court ordered the owners of Park La Brea Apartments to pay $3.5 million in total to 16 former tenants who had dealt with bedbug infestations between 2011 and 2013. Management had known about the issue since 2008, according to a lawyer involved in the case.5
New tenants should be informed about bedbug procedures
Landlords across the state of California are required to provide new tenants with a written notice about bedbugs that includes general information about the appearance, life cycle, and common signs and symptoms of a bedbug infestation. (The exact information that should be included is actually written out in Civ. Code § 1954.603.) Landlords must also write out the procedure that tenants should follow to report suspected infestations.6
Tenants must cooperate with their landlords to treat bedbugs
Renters are required by law to allow landlords access to their unit in order to inspect for bedbugs, as well as any pest control operators hired by the landlord—assuming that the landlord still follows the guidelines laid out in Civ. Code § 1954, which generally limit entry to normal business hours after giving 24 hours’ notice.7 Landlords are then required to let their tenants know what the pest control operators found, within two days of receiving the news themselves—and they must do it in writing.8
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.
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